Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Horror Movies and the Cross - Censored Cemetery Crucifix Scene from "Bride of Frankenstein"

Screen shot of the censored scene.

Bride of Frankenstein is the 1935 sequel to Universal Pictures' 1931 film Frankenstein, both directed by James Whale and star Boris Karloff as the Monster.

Whereas little was censored in the first Frankenstein, by the mid-1930s the rules about violence and other potentially offensive content in public entertainment were strict.

Joseph Breen, director of the Production Code Administration, and an Irish Catholic, made many recommendations regarding what was appropriate and what wasn’t for Bride. At this time, if a script didn’t receive the PCA’s seal of approval, it simply wasn’t getting produced.

You’ll recall a particular line from the original Frankenstein film, one that at the time was considered very controversial: Dr. Henry Frankenstein screaming, “It’s alive! Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to BE God,” when his creation comes to life. That line made it into the first film, but for Bride, Breen warned of the “suggestion of irreverence, particularly with the use of the name of God.” Apparently that line about feeling like God had been offensive and considered “somewhat blasphemous” by movie-goers in 1931.

Director James Whale worked with Breen to tone down the “gruesomeness” of the film, and capitulated to many of Breen’s suggestions.

One particular scene that was censored involved the Monster stumbling into a cemetery, where he sees a life-sized statue of Christ on the cross and mistakes it for a real man, suffering in a similar manner to how he himself had suffered previously in the film. The scene would have shown the monster trying to help Jesus off the cross.

This was another one of those things which the censorship board deemed to be “blasphemous”. Director James Whale wrote to Breen in defense of leaving the scene as-is, “Although the scene… as I explained to Mr. Sherlock, was meant to be one of supreme sympathy on the part of the Monster as he tries to rescue what he thinks is a man being persecuted as he was himself some time ago in the wood, if you still find this objectionable, I could easily change it to the figure of death.”

Interestingly, when the mob bound the Monster to a pole in the woods, where the Monster is posed in similar fashion to Christ at the crucifixion, it was one of the more subversive images that were snuck past the censors in The Bride of Frankenstein.

The Monster eventually escapes the mob, finds a blind hermit in the woods, and when he is driven away from the blind hermit’s home, he finds himself in a cemetery as he’s fleeing from those pursuing him. The Monster doesn’t even acknowledge the statue of Jesus in the theatrical release, but it just so happens to be situated behind an open crypt, which the Monster climbs down into and hides from the blood-thirsty mob.
“Whale decided it best to make the change anyway, although in the scene as shot, he featured Christ on the Cross in the background, thereby allowing the association to be made between Christ’s persecution and that of the Monster,” said Towlson

Despite the heavy and often unnecessary censoring, Bride of Frankenstein remains one of Universal’s greatest monster films.

The Monster’s interaction with the crucifix (and let’s not forget that he cared for the blind hermit — who had a crucifix hanging on the wall of his hut, which can be seen as an image of love in the midst of his suffering) really would have been a perfect demonstration of the Monster’s innocence and humanity.

In that deleted scene, what is the monster’s FIRST instinct upon seeing the statue of a crucified Jesus? “He needs HELP! I must HELP Him!” How this could ever be construed as inappropriate or blasphemous is absolutely dumbfounding.

Whale left in the crucifix. And placed it right by the crypt where the Monster escapes to safety.

We don’t need the Monster to interact with the statue of Jesus to understand the potential meaning here. It seems that the shot was set up this way to suggest that Jesus is a safe place to run to. Perhaps it wasn't a happy accident that Whale chose to stand that cross up, like a beacon, for the place that was safe. For the place that gave the Monster a moment’s respite from persecution. Would that we all viewed the Cross like this. Our safe haven, protecting us from harm.

A redemptive ending was the least of what the Monster deserved. Karloff’s Monster knew only a life of pain and suffering. Until he met the blind hermit, who showed him that good and evil… it’s a choice. A choice that WE must make for ourselves. In Mary Shelley's book, the Monster chooses evil. In the end of the film, the Monster chooses love, not hate. Despite what misery and torture he has suffered, he still finds the strength to choose good.